Friday, March 15, 2013

Dear Catholics. When we speak of abortion, gay rights...

...and all the other issues which elections tend to bring up, whether the elections be secular or papal, let us remember that there are actual people who are touched -- for good and for ill -- by our words and actions.

Let us remember that we must, first of all, LOVE.  Let us remember that without love, we are just clanging cymbals.  Let us remember that without love, we are just going to alienate and hurt people -- people Jesus loves.

Maybe we should start by standing in the shoes of The Other.  By trying to see things their way.

For example, pro-choice people do not hate babies and mothers and families.  I have personally had three friends who worked for Planned Parenthood -- two as volunteers and one as an employee.  One of the women who was a volunteer helped to stock and staff a center where poor, unwed mothers could come and get needed supplies for their babies.  This was an actual Planned Parenthood center.  The other volunteer worked a phone line where people could call for information about sexually transmitted diseases and contraception.  She was very excited to do this work, as she believed it helped people to stay healthy.  She did not view her job as encouraging people to engage in irresponsible sex.  She was very much in favor of people taking responsibility for their actions; and she viewed her position as assisting them in that endeavor.  The third woman I knew worked as a counselor in an abortion clinic.  She was a kind and unassuming young woman.  She knew I was Catholic.  She knew we did not agree about this issue.  But, she accepted me as a friend, anyway.  And I accepted her.  And this friendship allowed me to talk to her about her ideas.  She told me, basically, that she did not see abortion as an actual "good," but that the women who came to the clinic were in very difficult circumstances and felt that they had no alternative. 

I did have these experiences many years ago.  I know there are many more resources now for women with unplanned pregnancies.  But, the whole need has not been filled.  So, to me, instead of fretting about the law, I ponder how I can actually reach out to and help women in difficult circumstances.  Without judging them.  Loving them no matter what their final decision about their situation might be.

Pro-women's rights people are also (rightly) concerned about certain things they see in developing countries.  They see women and children who suffer disproportionately because of ill health and poverty.  And it cannot be denied that this ill health and poverty can, at least to some degree, be attributed to having many babies in impoverished circumstances in cultures where women are often viewed as property.  So, the progressives believe it is important to empower women in societies where they have no voice.  They see it as an issue of human dignity.  And part (and only part) of the formula for this empowerment, in their minds, includes contraception and abortion. 

So, even if we Catholics don't agree on this part of their solution, we should still admit that there is a problem.  We should express some understanding for the pro-choice view of things, for it is understandable.  And, with understanding, perhaps there can be some real dialogue.

Gay marriage is another hot-button issue of our day.  Many Catholic people speak vociferously of how gay marriage threatens heterosexual marriage, children, society, religious freedom.  What concerns me most about this is that we tend to forget that there are actual people we are touching with our words -- words that can, at times, be legitimately construed as unkind.  We must remember that gay people do actually love each other and their children.  They have the same desires as the rest of us for companionship and love and family.  These are human desires.  So, as we discuss these issues, let us contemplate how difficult and lonely it would be to go through life without a spouse or children.  We need to have a real sensitivity to that.  We need to have compassion and kindness.  The gay people I know do not wish to "persecute" me for my religion.  They are just fine with me practicing my religion as I wish -- and even speaking about it with them.  They just don't want to be pushed around.  And they feel that we religious people want to push them around.  They feel that we want to "persecute" them. 

Finally, let us remember the failings of our Church and the horrific suffering these failings have caused.  Let us reflect on the priestly abuse crisis.  Let us fall to our knees in sorrow and humility.  And before we open our mouths, let us remember, "He who is without sin may cast the first stone."

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